How to write an employee reference letter

By Robert Half on 30th October 2017

A good letter of recommendation could be the last hurdle between your employee and a fresh challenge. Competition for skilled talent is reaching fever point but many businesses still can’t seem to find candidates which they think are suitable for the job—an excellent recommendation could change all that.

According to research for the Robert Half Salary Guide, 40% of business say that finding someone with the right skills is a challenge. This may be why the humble reference letter is still so relevant—employers in many sectors are shifting their focus towards cultural fit, which they complement with employee training and development. A reference letter or letter of recommendation from a previous employer makes finding this cultural fit far easier.

If you’ve been asked to write a letter of reference, here are some basics to help you complete the task quickly and easily, while still retaining all the information prospective employers are looking for.

Why ask for a reference letter from a current employer?

Employee reference letters are more than just verification of the qualifications on a CV. They also help a potential employer determine candidates which are a good fit for their company culture.

The consequences of making a bad hire can be anything from low output, low staff morale and—potentially—the high cost of finding a new replacement. Robert Half research into workplace happiness has shown that employees with good fit in both skills and temperament typically have a higher output, better engagement and longer tenure.  

How to write a reference letter for an employee

Typically, a reference will require you to answer a set of basic questions, such as how long the candidate has worked with you, what their role was and details about their remuneration package.

If you haven’t been provided with any questions, here are some writing tips and points that are important to cover off in your general letter of recommendation:

  • Have an updated CV to hand

It will be useful if you can give specific examples of your employee’s goals, targets and achievements. Before you start writing, ask them if they can provide their updated CV so you can corroborate the information they’ve already given.

  • Take inspiration from their new job description

To help make sure you’re hitting all the right marks, it’s useful to ask for a copy of your employee’s new job description. This will help you structure your reference letter with information which is relevant.

  • Talk about their character

Once you’ve covered off important details, like experience, achievements and suitability for the new role, try to include some more personal details about the character of the employee. This offers a thoughtful touch and will help a new company decide if they’ve found the right cultural fit.

  • Include your contact details

In the interest of being thorough, try to include your contact information on the reference letter where possible. You might find that your letter has raised points which warrant further discussion.

Remember: it’s crucial that you only accept a reference letter request if you’re able to provide a positive review of that individual!

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